EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Cassius Winston sprinted up the sideline, called for the ball and got it to put up a 3-pointer.
Winston scored 15 points and missed only one shot beyond the arc, helping the third-ranked Spartans beat Southern Utah 88-63 on Saturday night.
“I was definitely feeling it,” he said. “My teammates did a good job of getting the ball in my hands where I could make shots.”
That’s a good idea this season.
After making just 38 percent of his 3-pointers last season, Winston has connected on 61 percent and almost has as many makes beyond the arc that he did all of last season.
“I’ve put a lot of work into it,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of attention on other guys. If I can knock down open jumpers like that, it opens the floor up that much more.”
The point guard made 5 of 6 3-point attempts against the Thunderbirds. Over the last six games, the sophomore has connected on 19 of 26 3-pointers.
“He is shooting the lights out,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Winston is often open because many of his teammates can score, too.
“He’s shooting with great confidence and he’s getting it off quick,” Southern Utah coach Todd Simon said. “He’s a game-changer for them when he’s playing like that. There’s not many holes in that lineup.”
Jackson had 13 rebounds and five blocks. Bridges had 11 rebounds and six assists.
The Thunderbirds (5-4) had won three straight. They kept it relatively close at the Breslin Center for a while, trailing by just five points midway through the second half.
Michigan State’s balanced team took control with a 21-7 run to take a 79-60 lead with 4:45 left.
Southern Utah’s Dre Marin, Jacob Calloway and Jadon Cohee scored 12 points apiece and Ivan Madunic added 10 points.
“We’re kind of a budding program, rebuilding this thing,” Simon said. “Our guys played really hard. From a competitive standpoint, I was really proud of the guys.”
Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds can upset a lot of teams if they make 3-pointers like they did at Michigan State, connecting on 11 beyond the arc.
“Our game plan was to get 30 3s up and make 15 of them,” Simon said. “We felt like we could because they’re so aggressive defensively. We passed up some and drove inside the trees and found that was not a good strategy.”
Michigan State: The Spartans may be ranked No. 1 on Monday for the first time in two years. The top-ranked Blue Devils (11-1) lost to Boston College on Saturday, No. 2 Kansas (7-1) lost to Washington on Wednesday and No. 4 Villanova (9-0) is unbeaten going into Sunday’s game against La Salle.
Izzo welcomes the top spot.
“I think this team has to learn how to handle all these things,” he said.
Simon had a lot of fans in the stands because he’s from Fowler, Michigan, a small town about 30 miles from Michigan State, and he graduated from Central Michigan in 2003.
“That part of it was a pretty cool experience,” he said.
Southern Utah: Plays on Saturday at home against Central Michigan.
Michigan State: Plays Oakland on Saturday in Detroit after Michigan faces Detroit Mercy in Little Caesars Arena.